Saturday, December 16, 2006

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What's the grandest strategy of them all?

Remember that blog query I made about available grand strategies? Yes, I had an ulterior motive:

"The Grandest Strategy of Them All," Washington Post, December 17, 2006:

In this climate [of uncertainty], policy heavyweights from Washington to New York to Boston are grasping for the Next Big Idea, the grand strategy that will guide U.S. foreign policy in a post-Iraq world and earn its creator fame and, if not fortune, perhaps a spot on the next administration's foreign-policy team. So who will be the next George Kennan? The current strategies on offer in various books and articles include new buzzwords, promising ideas -- and miles to go before a consensus emerges.
Click on the article to see my take on the candidate strategies -- and which one I think has the best chance of winning out (though it's still a horse race). I even managed to talk about the dangers of economic populism again.

Obsessive readers of might find a few echoes of this piece embedded in various blog posts from the past, including this eulogy for George Kennan, this rave of Jeffrey Legro's book, this discussion of multi-multilateralism, and this critique of the Princeton Project over at TPM Book Club.

UPDATE: The Fletcher School owns the Washington Post Outlook section today. My colleague Lawrence Harrison also has an essay -- on whether free market democracy can travel across cultures.

posted by Dan on 12.16.06 at 08:20 AM


how about Thomas PM Barnett's grand strategy?

posted by: jared on 12.16.06 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

I read your Washington Post commentary, as well as some of the comments from your December 11 blog post. You don't cite Christopher Layne's "Peace of Illusions" as a contender, although commenters mentioned an offshore balancing strategy as a top option for U.S. grand strategy going forward. The "lead by example" plank of the Lieven and Hulsman book is warmed up anti-Bush sentiment to me. Layne would avoid that by focusing on power balances rather than domestic conditions. I prefer Mandelbaum, in any case. I don't see U.S. prestige being set back that far by Iraq. Richard Haass remarked this week that the fallout from an Iraq defeat will be temporary, and that the U.S. would continue to provide the essentials of world leadership. And actually, I do see ethical realism as a bit neo-isolationist -- and if one's going to advocate such a direction for U.S. foreign policy, why be coy about it. At least Eugene Gholz et al., in the New York Times this week, were clear about the need to offshore U.S. military power completely upon our withdrawal from Iraq. I disagree with their points as well, but they're not opaque.

posted by: Donald Douglas on 12.16.06 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

The problem with all the "grand strategies" you discuss is that they don't directly address our conflict with the Qutbist and Khomeniist movements. If Kennan had written an article that talked about the US role in the world but didn't mention Communism or the Soviet Union specifically, it would not have had any impact at all. We need a strategy to handle the Islamist menace.

From a structural point of view, not specifically focused on the Islamist problem, Mandlebaum's point will continue to hold true, like it or not. No one besides the US is going to have the incentive and capability to provide the minimal level of global order we now enjoy. All other powers are either too weak, too insular, or too parochial to provide these international public goods, and the trend lines don't look good for anyone expecting a change.

posted by: srp on 12.16.06 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

Wow. You write an entire article about grand strategy and you decide between them on the basis of which is better on softening up the American public to accept free trade. Would you see you are a victim of bureaucratic politics, seeing things from the perspective of a scholar who writes on trade. I mean, I know it's important, but is it the crucial factor that tips the balance in favor of one strategy over another. Please. Why is that more important than Iraq, than preparing the US public to meet multiple threats, than Iran, or than anything else. Talk about missing the bigger picture. I think you've done yourself a real disservice here by being unable to think outside your own box.

posted by: paul on 12.16.06 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

I bought "Ethical Realism" because their NPR interview seemed so wrong-headed I had to check for myself. My review is called "Unethical Nihilism" because after trashing the current administration with clichés, all they offered was retreaded moral relativism, populism, and 400-year-old Machiavellian power politics. They advocate an economic assault that already today is effectively undermined by bombs in the marketplace.

Economics has its place, but this war is a war of ideas for which our schools have left us unarmed. I'd be surprised if a handful of people could explain what characteristic of democracy gives it its advantage. Nor could they explain how to convey it to a foreign culture to appeal to their self-interest.

Dan, this is a multi-front war that will require weaponry and economics, but most of all it will require a change of mind -- both at home and abroad.

posted by: sbw on 12.16.06 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

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